Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Autism and Wandering

Good afternoon.  

I wanted to address a very important topic today.  Nearly half of families with autistic children report that their child have wandered or "escaped" from a safe environment.  This obviously places our autistic children at an increased risk for accident, injury, and foul play.

I remember a few occasions in which Tyler somehow got out of sight and it was perhaps some of the most frightening moments of my life.

One very minor incident was at a picnic at my parents house.  Tyler was not very old and he somehow got in a position where everyone else thought someone else had him.  You know...that..."where is Tyler?  I thought YOU had him".  What made it scary is that my parent's property has a dirt road on one side and a large creek on the other.  I immediately sprinted for the creek looking for ripples as I ran.  I barely reached the bank when I heard everyone shouting that they found him.  He hadn't gone very far and didn't seem fazed that he had slipped about 20 feet from view.  My heart, however, had stopped beating.

Another time was a lazy weekend morning.  My wife and I were sleeping in a bit, and Tyler was awake but not doing anything in particular (or so we thought).  Our phone rang and it was our next door neighbor George.  He asked if we knew Tyler was out walking around in the back yard.  I said we did (which was a lie...we didn't), and sprang up to see where he really was.  Sure enough, he had opened the back screen door, and walked out into the back yard, fashionably clad in white socks, a diaper, and sunglasses.  It seemed he wasn't intent on really going anywhere, he was just taking in the sunshine.  

Yet another instance came when we had a summer caregiver.  This agency strictly forbade the transporting of Tyler unless we gave our consent, which in this case we had not.  One day the agency came to do a surprise check on the caregiver, and she was gone.  So was Tyler.  We searched the closest park thinking they may have driven there instead of walking. No Tyler.  They tried calling her but she did not pick up.  I freaked.  She returned about 30 minutes later, and Tyler appeared to be fine.  They would not let her on my property for fear that I might retaliate and make matters worse.  She refused to admit where they had gone, and she was fired.  I checked Tyler's physical condition and his overall demeanor and it was pretty obvious that he had suffered no distress of any kind.  

Pretty scary right?  We consider ourselves to be very loving and protective parents, yet things were still able to happen.  And in each case, Tyler wasn't even intending to leave the safety of our watchful eye.  Imagine if he had more of a tendency to try and get away!

There are some very important things to remember when we are protecting special needs children or adults from wandering or escaping.  First, what attracts them to leaving their safe environment?  This could include:

  • Attraction to bright lights, traffic lights, signs, or brightly colored items
  • Moving items such as fire trucks, buses, trains, construction equipment, etc
  • Attraction to water, which is very common
  • A desire to "escape" from being overwhelmed and overstimulated
  • General confusion or memories of some other area from their past
  • An absence of recognizing dangers
There are many ways we can reduce the odds of wandering or not being easily found:
  • Use alarms, bells, buzzers, etc. to signal if an exterior door has been opened
  • Utilize fences and locks which are not easily deactivated
  • Have relationships with neighbors so that they will alert you if your special person is seen outside of the safe environment alone
  • If feasible, have your special person wear a form of ID like a bracelet
  • Register your child with a Child ID program so that their fingerprints and picture are on file
Tyler's safety and security has always been a constant concern.  As he grew and changed, our strategies had to change too.  It has never been easy, and we have certainly never been perfect, but we have always done the very best we could.  

Be well and God bless.   Tom

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